10 March 2014

Our forests threatened by non-native fungi

In the last 30 years our forests have increasingly suffered so-called ‘emerging’ diseases caused by virulent pathogenic fungi from other continents.

These fungal forest diseases can have a threefold impact: economic (drop in wood production, loss of jobs in the timber industry, financial loss for forestry nurseries), environmental (loss of biodiversity, disturbance to ecosystems) and societal (changes to the landscape and loss of well-loved forest species).

These fungi come into Europe through our growing international trade and also via tourism to far-flung destinations. On top of that comes climate change, making our forest species more susceptible to infections.

In the face of these threats to plant health, Europe’s scientific community is mobilising to develop phytosanitary warning systems, gain a better understanding of these diseases and put management measures in place. CRA-W studies emerging diseases affecting forest species through nationally and internationally funded research projects. The research concerns some particularly formidable organisms, Phytophthora, and specifically Phytophthora alni which causes common alder disease (research into disease-resistant alders), P. ramorum, the cause of ‘sudden larch death’ (assessment of the risk to conifers in Belgium) and P. cambivora, the causal agent of beech dieback (monitoring and epidemiology). CRA-W is also developing diagnostic methods targeting the emerging fungi.

As a National Reference Laboratory for plant diseases, CRA-W attends international meetings (in particular, those held by the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization – EPPO) as a channel for informing regional and federal political bodies about any new plant health threats to our forests. CRA-W is also a member of the group of laboratories involved in the work of the Walloon Forest Health Monitoring Organisation. In that capacity the Centre participates in monitoring the health of Wallonia’s forests with respect to emerging fungi, makes recommendations and arranges training on recognising diseases affecting forest species.

For further information we suggest you have a look at the FORPATH, FORPRAM, PALNIRIV and LNR-MY project data sheets, which are available on the CRA-W website.

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